Even when college is free, many students still don't enroll. Here's why.

Despite the frequent scrutiny of college costs, a recent study suggests that cost is not the only reason why students don't enroll in college.

Tennesseans can attend college for free, as long as they meet certain minimum requirements. This was made possible by programs in the state called Tennessee Promise, for traditional students, and Tennessee Reconnect, for adult students.

So why wouldn't a student take advantage of one of these programs?

A report released by advocacy group Complete Tennessee answers this question. Researchers went on a statewide "listening tour" to hear from communities about what barriers were keeping them from getting a degree. Here's what they found:

  • There are still jobs that only require a high school diploma, leading some students to take the short-term paycheck over the long-term pay and other benefits that come with a college degree;
  • Lack of transportation options and broadband internet access is an issue for Tennessee's rural communities, where there is no community college or four-year institution nearby; and
  • There is not enough of a push during K-12 education to help students understand the career options available to them and how getting a college diploma can help them get into those careers.

Complete Tennessee plans to use this data to work with the state's local leaders to develop completion strategies that are specific to each region's concerns, according to Kenyatta Lovett, the organization's executive director. The state's goal is for 55% of Tennesseans to have a higher education credential by 2025 (Complete Tennessee report, accessed 6/22; Siner, Nashville Public Radio, 6/19; Tamburin, The Tennessean, 6/19).

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